The current Cleveland Browns regime needed just a little over one year to
prove one thing … the decision-makers are head and shoulders better than those
involved in the Butch Davis Era.
That fact was proven recently when the team signed Orpheus Roye to a
three-year contract extension, thus assuring that the Browns' most consistent
player will be with Cleveland to anchor the defense throughout the team's
rebuilding phase and, hopefully, beyond.
Roye has indicated he wants to play the rest of his career with Cleveland
and, even if that means only through 2008, that definitely is good news for
Browns fans everywhere.
To those of you who say that re-signing Roye was a no-brainer, you are
But the same could have been said about punter Chris Gardocki a couple of
years ago, yet we all know how Davis butchered that situation. Because Davis
thought Gardocki's hang time was diminishing, he allowed the steady veteran to
leave via free agency. The air must be thinner in Pittsburgh because Gardocki
didn't seem to have any hang time issues while punting for the Super Bowl
There were times this past season when Roye looked to be a man playing with
boys. Despite having virtually no help from his fellow defensive linemen, Roye
would, at times, dominate. He was a one-man gang, a guy capable of winning
battles on a consistent basis even when being double-teamed.
In fact, I would go so far as to say Roye might be one of the Browns' very
best defensive ends during the 40-plus years I've been watching and covering the
team. He certainly is the best since the team returned in 1999.
But how does he compare to some of the defense ends who played for the Browns
between 1962, when I first became a true fan, and 1995, the last season of the
I'll refer to the early `60s as the Bill Glass-Paul Wiggin era. In my young
and impressionable eyes, those two guys were larger than life. They were a huge
part of the bend-but-don't break defense that blanked the Baltimore Colts 27-0
to win the National Football League Championship in 1964.
To this day, I still look at Wiggin and Glass as the best defensive end duo
in my memory.
(I'm sure that a lot of you really old old-timers are grumbling that Hall of
Famer Len Ford, whose last year as a starter was 1957, was better than either
one of them, but I'm only ranking guys I truly remember seeing play on a regular
The Browns had another excellent duo of defense ends in the late 1960s and
early `70s in Jack Gregory and Ron Snidow. In fact, on an individual basis,
Gregory certainly ranks among the top two or three on my list.
It might very well be that Gregory and Snidow benefited tremendously from the
defensive tackles on the majority of those teams. Big Walter Johnson and
incomparable Jerry Sherk were incredible athletes, which obviously benefited
those around them.
Probably the most memorable defensive end from the mid to late 1970s was Joe
“Turkey” Jones, whose planting of Terry Bradshaw in the middle of the old
Cleveland Browns Stadium is a scene that will always remain etched in my memory.
I remember I was sitting in the fourth row behind the Steelers' bench when
Jones picked up Bradshaw and sent him head-first into the dirt. Bradshaw's body
quivered as doctors and teammates rushed to the scene. For a few minutes, I
truly thought his career was over. Can you imagine how history would have
changed had that been the case?
In the 1980s, the two best defensive ends were veterans Lyle Alzado and Carl
“Big Daddy” Hairston, who were brought on board at opposite ends of the decade.
Alzado, whose premature death at age 43 in 1992 was attributed to his use of
steroids throughout his adult life, was nearly unstoppable at times, much like
Roye was this past season.
His contribution on the defensive side of the ball in 1980 was overshadowed
by the offensive fireworks displayed by the Kardiac Kids.
Alzado's motor never stopped, which was in direct contrast to that of
Hairston, who might have been one of the most laid-back athletes I have ever
“Big Daddy,” at the stage of his career he played with the Browns, was
dominating in spurts, but a lot of times when he got winded, Hairston would
feign an injury, thus giving himself a few minutes to recharge his battery.
It was always an inside joke to try and predict how many times a game “Big
Daddy” would need the medics to come to his aid on the field. The over-and-under
was usually three and a half.
Others who came and went but left a lasting impression in my mind included Al
“Bubba” Baker, whose better days were as a Pro Bowl performer with the Detroit;
Reggie Camp, who had a better-than average career; Keith “Pure” Baldwin, who
player personnel director Bill Davis mistakenly graded out as the “best pure
pass rusher” in the 1982 draft; and Sam “Clanky” Clancy, whose nickname
(bestowed on him by former Akron Beach Journal Browns beat man Ed Meyer) was
good for a laugh about a half-dozen times a game.
In the 1990, the Browns had a couple of up-and-coming defensive ends in Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant, both of whom went on to have solid NFL careers,
albeit with other organizations.